Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Some Thoughts on the Ngram Viewer

Searching "lots of books," 1900-2000 

March 28, 2012 -- RBM will present "The Massacre in Magical Realism: Some Thoughts on Las Bananeras and the Ngram Viewer" at the 2012 Midwestern Conference on Literature, Language, and Media. The conference takes place March 30-31 at Northern Illinois University in DeKalb. RBM's paper explores the historicity of Gabriel García Márquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude with help from Salman Rushdie's Midnight's Children and Google's Ngram Viewer, pictured above. An excerpt:
What’s seems worth noting, as this rumination's coda, is the near-absence of the events of December 1928 from this data set. Searching for "banana massacre" (and "Santa Marta massacre," as it's also known), produces a flat line up until the late 1960s, when One Hundred Years first reaches audiences, then minor bursts of consciousness, or so it would appear, as García Márquez wins the Nobel prize in 1982 and finally reaches a far-flung literati. Soaring above this line, ever since the 1920s—up and down and up again, sometimes more than a dozen data points higher (we imagine) into all of literature—we find the terms "Jallianwala Bagh massacre" (and  "Amritsar massacre," as it was first known). More bluntly, and as the closing chapters of One Hundred Years attest, it was the bananeras, not General Dyer's tangled villagers, who with the disappearance of a banana company disappeared from Western thought.
Moderating RBM's panel, which also includes criticism of newspaper op-eds and ethnic identity in poetry: Ibis Gómez-Vega, a novelist and professor of English at Northern Illinois. There's more information at

Saturday, March 03, 2012

The Post-Orientalists

Millenium Park's Cloud Gate (Anish Kapoor, 2006)
Updated March 4, 2012 -- This year's conference and bookfair of the Association of Writers & Writing Programs (AWP) concluded Saturday in Chicago after record attendance. The journal Brevity has been covering AWP's talk of nonfiction at its blog: everything from John D'Agata and "Exploding the Narrative Line" to Rebecca Skloot and "What’s Wrong with the Whole Truth?" Here's a dispatch by RBM from Thursday's "Creative Nonfiction and the Possibility of Post-Orientalist Travel Writing," a panel featuring five travel writers who part ways with Joseph Conrad and other Orientalists.
I’ll leave you with Oona Patrick, the Cape Cod writer who left the most lasting impression on this writer. Patrick calls her work a “cautionary tale” about her native Provincetown, where her Portuguese ancestors stepped off a whaleship from the Azores some 150 years ago. “You have a lot of guts to be here,” Patrick was told more recently, when the local showed up at Provincetown’s storied colony of (mostly visiting) artists. 
On Thursday, this soft-spoken woman in black delivered a biting critique of Cape Cod’s luminaries (Henry David Thoreau, Eugene O’Neill, Tennessee Williams, Normal Mailer, Mary Oliver, Mark Doty, Annie Dillard, the list goes on) and their descriptions of what is to many sacred ground. In concluding her remarks, Patrick singled out (perhaps unfairly) the following excerpt from Doty’s “Breakwater.” 
“Here, curving out to the farthest reaches, / the breakwater’s a causeway of huge stones. / Hard to think these were placed, / these drowsy, inland boulders / awakened, all century, by the seawater’s / moon-driven alarm. Who piled them, / one atop the other, / into this enormous arc?” 
“Who piled them?” Patrick repeated, incredulous. “They’re not crop circles!”
The full text of this post is at along with RBM's "Three Cups of Veritas" (a review of For another visit to Chicago's mesmerizing Cloud Gate, see "One Day in the Second City."